Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181424)
Written on  :  Aug 21, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Neither fish nor fowl

The Good

Broken Sword is an example of what I like to call the "post-classical" period of adventure games. It was made after Sierra and LucasArts did everything they could with comedy, and the former also produced quite a few convincing experiments in a more "serious" genre.

Revolution - not exactly a rookie in the business, having authored the (in my opinion) more interesting Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky - tries to recreate the transparent atmosphere of the classical style. It might sound strange, but the one positive thing to say about Broken Sword is that there is nothing overly negative to say about it.

The game is solid, quite solid indeed. There are some nicely flowing dialogues and humorous remarks representing the dry British wit. There is more exploration and experimentation involved than in the less interesting sequel. The Paris part of the game, where it most resembles a detective story, is more successful than the later episodes - I enjoyed interrogating suspects and gathering evidence instead of blindly advancing the plot via contrived adventure game devices. Some of the puzzles feel right, being logical, neither too hard nor too easy. The graphics are technically good. In short, there is nothing wrong with this game...

The Bad

...just as there isn't anything really great in it. Typically of the "post-classical" period, energy and creativity are running low in Broken Sword. It looks back nostalgically almost in a way a fan tribute would. The entire genre was already in a crisis, and this game feels like a rather desperate attempt to ignore that. It contains many traditional adventure elements, but they don't mesh well because the designers were too focused on making everything "right" instead of having their own vision of what an adventure game should be like.

Not many games could tell serious stories right while spicing them with a bit of humor. Gabriel Knight series was one of the few that succeeded in that. Those games told deep stories and had dark, even macabre atmosphere; whenever they injected them with humor, they did it at the right time and in the right doses, so that it never interfered with the sinister atmosphere or disrupted the dramatic pace of the story. Broken Sword could not do the same. It's a bit of everything - silly "Monkey Island-lite" puzzles interspersed by murders, cozy dialogues with goofy people in quiet Irish villages against the backdrop of pseudo-historical conspiracies. This discrepancy in style was already evident in Revolution's earlier work, but here it becomes unnerving.

One big problem with the game is its dryness. Whether in the puzzles, dialogues, visuals, humor, or story, the tone is consistently distant - there is hardly any warmth. Gabriel Knight games combined all their historical and occult material with personal involvement. Their heroes suffered, had inner conflicts; they fought, loved and hated. The main characters of Broken Sword, on the other side, are indifferent. You never learn much about their personalities. You don't really care for them. And they also don't care that much for what's happening in the game.

Lukewarm puzzles have to be solved in order to advance a trite plot based on fake "discoveries" by some authors during the last couple of decades of the century. Since that, people started fixating, among other things, on Knights Templar, as if their alleged conspiracies could help us solve the real problems we face in the world. Thus, Broken Sword is quite distant from its modern-day setting, being more of a big cliche peppered by stereotypical exotics. This nonchalance is perfectly illustrated by the visuals: they are too bright, too neat, too sterile to convey the much-needed atmosphere.

The Bottom Line

Broken Sword was made according to the right standards, but the input of its own personality is minimal. It resembles a hard-working, but not particularly inspired student who did his best to imitate a great master. The result is a rather tepid game, neither bad nor exciting - classical, but not a classic.